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Nov 19, 2011

Comedy of errors provides true drama

Incompetence can be contagious. As officially the two worst teams in the Premier League traded blunders and goals in almost equal measure, a 90-minute exhibition of defensive disasters included an elementary error from the officials.

This was proof that high drama and high farce can be closely related. Never more so that, after an hour, when Morten Gamst Pedersen effectively took a corner to himself, crossed and Junior Hoilett equalised for Blackburn in one of the season's strangest goals. The Norwegian evidently assumed Yakubu, who had placed the ball in the quadrant, had rolled it to him. He hadn't.

"I was a bit surprised to see him [Pedersen] running along the [goal] line," manager Steve Kean said. His counterpart, Roberto Martinez, married his typical politeness with an unusual sense of anger. "The decision is hard to take," he said. "For a referee to allow that is hurtful. I don't know what to say. If I am going to be honest, I am going to get into trouble and it is going to cost me a lot of money."

Referee Andre Marriner, along with the Wigan defence, appeared to have turned his back at the pivotal moment. "I haven't done the referees' course but I am sure you have to watch the ball at all times," Martinez added with smiling sarcasm.

Yet while everyone else was erring, the officials, who had already ignored a blatant penalty when Victor Moses was tripped, merely proved equally faulty. Consider the goals: after 65 seconds, Gary Caldwell neglected to meet Steven Nzonzi's header, allowing Yakubu to lob Ali Al-Habsi. Or the moment when Caldwell made amends, heading in David Jones' corner as Nzonzi wandered away from him. Or, indeed, the two occasions Paul Robinson was beaten from outside his box, first at the near post by Jordi Gomez and then with a rather tame effort from Albert Crusat.

And, most damningly of all, the moment Blackburn pinched a point. Goalkeepers' capacity to cause chaos was apparent again as Robinson went forward for a 97th-minute penalty. Rather than clearing, Jones merely succeeded in kicking Robinson in the head. "He's got a badly-bruised cheek," said Kean. Wigan were left with a different type of headache as Yakubu converted the 99th-minute penalty. "There was a little bit of panic [at the end]," Martinez admitted.

It was an astonishing, action-packed way to preserve the status quo. Wigan and Blackburn remain 20th and 19th, neighbours who are side by side in trouble and whose problems mirror each others'. Neither can keep a clean sheet or hold on to a lead; approaching the DW Stadium with the cynical expectation of a draw, on the grounds both would prove too inept to win, preceded punch-drunk departures from spectators shocked at the constant, almost surreal drama.

If a flawless match ends 0-0, simply because no one makes any mistakes, this was filled with exhilarating imperfections: the failure of the otherwise impressive Victor Moses to convert two simple chances, the lack of judgment that led David Dunn, already booked, to scythe down Mohamed Diame and be dismissed. But, in an utterly illogical encounter, Blackburn improved with 10 men.

Barring a startling turnaround, the Championship beckons for both, yet inveterate optimists drew different conclusions. "I do see it as a turning point," said Martinez, whose side had lost their last eight league games. Kean's feelings were apparent from his air-punching, on-pitch celebrations at the final whistle, as though celebrating a winner at the Nou Camp, not a draw at the DW.

He was able to smile at the soundtrack, which included the suggestion that he doesn't know what he's doing, courtesy of the Blackburn fans. "As long as they are noisy," said Kean, taking a positive - as ever - from vocal opposition.

Two of his directors, co-owners Venkatesh and Balaji Rao, had already left at half-time, heading for Blackpool airport rather than hear the Rovers supporters call for Venky's to leave. It probably was not the mood music he had in mind for this particular anniversary and, exactly a year after their takeover, the union of Venky's and Blackburn seems a marriage made in hell, rather than India or Lancashire. But after a year of rows and rancour, of ridiculous rhetoric and broken promises, it was Wigan left broken hearted. "It feels like a defeat," Martinez said. Instead, after 90 minutes of enthralling chaos, very little has changed. These entertainers remain equally endangered.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Yakubu - If only for the composure he showed with the goals to bookend the game. Each, separated by 97 minutes of action, was beautifully taken.

WIGAN VERDICT: "I don't think you will see a more dominant performance in the Premier League this weekend," Martinez argued, calling his players "outstanding". In some respects, they were: Diame produced a powerful performance in midfield, wing-backs Ronnie Stam and Jones surged forward to great effect and Moses troubled Blackburn with his elusive running. Even the often awful Steve Gohouri made a brilliant goal-saving challenge. The switch to 3-4-3 benefited Wigan in some ways. And yet... they still conceded three goals to Blackburn, despite playing with a man more for almost half the game and they lost their nerve at the end.

BLACKBURN VERDICT: Their defensive troubles continue with Michel Salgado only lasting 45 minutes on his comeback and with Wigan, had they been less profligate, able to score eight or 10. But Blackburn are creating chances themselves and Pedersen, who also hit the post, is in fine form, even if that won't be why his contribution is remembered.

THE UNLIKELY CLASSIC: Wigan versus Blackburn may not be a match that jumps off the fixture list, but previous meetings have finished 5-3 and 4-3. Their next game at the DW should be well worth watching but, as it will probably be in the Championship, it is likely to have a rather smaller audience.

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